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Transcript of doorstop: Tuesday 4 March 2003: Canberra: bulk billing; education; OECD report; polls; Iraq.

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Subjects: Bulk billing; Education; OECD report; Polls; Iraq

CREAN: Yesterday in the Parliament demonstrated that, when the fog of war lifts, what the Government’s true agenda is. Yesterday John Howard indicated it was his intention to kill Medicare off, to ensure that bulk billing was run down, and that in future it would be only means-tested. We know they’ve got an agenda out there in relation to university places to make them less available and to make them more expensive. This is a Government that has overseen the highest taxes this country has ever seen, with less services. It’s taxing families more, and it’s cutting their services. No wonder they’re feeling the pinch.

Now today, no doubt, the Treasurer will herald the OECD report about Australia’s prospects. That’s a report written by people in Paris looking at Australia. I’ll tell you what Australian families think, ‘If the economy’s going so well, why am I finding it harder to live, harder to survive? Why am I being taxed more? Why am I being charged more?’ It’s because of the domestic policies of the

Government, policies it won’t talk about, policies it won’t correct. It wants to hide behind the fog of war and hope the Australian people don’t notice. They do notice. They want these issues fixed, and Labor’s committed to fixing them.

JOURNALIST: So you don’t welcome the OECD report and what it has to say about growth in Australia, in particular?

CREAN: Well, it talks about growth, but it also talks about the drop-off in Year 12 retention rates. Where’s our future if our kids are not being qualified, if they can’t afford to go on to university? And the OECD report also doesn’t address where the real debt burden has fallen in this country. Yesterday, for example, the figures demonstrated that the current account is at record high levels, and our foreign debt is at record high levels. The Government talks about reducing the national debt. It’s only done it because it’s sold assets. That’s like selling your home to pay off your mortgage. But the debt burden has shifted to families and to overseas debt. And families are increasingly having to pay more - more by way of housing repayments, more by way of credit card repayments. They’re being taxed more and they’re into hock more. Australian families are not comfortable and relaxed under this Government. And after seven years, what do they face? They face no cuts in taxes - in fact, they’ve got a GST that’s locked in


there for them - and they face continuing declines in bulk billing. They can’t afford to get sick.

JOURNALIST: Are you at all deflated by today’s polls showing support for you is down?

CREAN: Well, if you actually look at the totality of the poll, the results are very close, very close indeed. And, in fact, if you do a proper dissection of the two-party preferred votes, it’s too close to call. If you also look at the polls, you will see that there has been a dramatic decline in the standing of the Prime Minister. And if you look at the polls as well, you’ll see that an overwhelming number of Australians don’t support Australia going in with the US in an attack on Iraq without UN approval. But the polls themselves also mask these domestic issues which have not been given, and not able to be given, as much air as we would like over recent months. They will be over coming months. My intention is to bring these domestic issues more to the fore and present alternatives positions - a commitment to restore bulk billing, a commitment to make university places more available and more affordable, to do likewise with TAFE places, a commitment to improving the living standards of Australian families.

JOURNALIST: How long can you sustain an increase in disapproval rating?

CREAN: We are continuing to make headway in the polls. I mean, look at the polls yesterday. The polls show - and the polls that have come out today - an increase in Labor’s primary vote. A close-run thing in terms of two-party preferred. We’re still a long way from election date. There is strong disapproval with the way the Prime Minister is handling the war, but it’s not the war that’s going to be the vote switcher. It’s the war that’s clouding the domestic issues, which are going to be the vote switcher. My task is to cut through the fog of war, get those domestic issues up on the agenda and get people understanding what the real choice is. And yesterday in the Parliament you saw us begin to do that again.

JOURNALIST: How long do you give yourself to cut through that fog of war before it becomes untenable?

CREAN: In terms of cutting through the fog of war, we commenced to do that yesterday with Medicare. We’ve got the Prime Minister admitting that bulk billing is dead. He’s going to means-test it. He’s ended universality of health cover in this country. We will wait and see what they do on universities, but this will be another indication of the Government shifting the burden from the public purse to the private purse, making it less affordable for people. I give myself to the next election to cut through in terms of the real alternatives. This is not a sprint, it’s a marathon. And what we’ve got to do is to get those domestic issues up.

JOURNALIST: So you don’t see these polls as any sort of poor reflection on you personally?

CREAN: I see these polls as an indication that if an election were held now it would be a very close-run thing. And if an election were held now, there would 2


have to be focus on domestic issues. But an election isn’t going to be held now, because the Prime Minister won’t call it now. Despite his threats of double dissolutions, threats to try and get us to do what? To back down on our commitment to oppose an increase in pharmaceuticals. That’s what the Government is putting through the Senate this week, a 30 per cent increase in the price of pharmaceuticals. I’ve already indicated where the Government is cutting Medicare to Australian families and making health care unaffordable. He’s now going to put up pharmaceutical charges. This Government, whenever it gets the chance, puts up a new tax or slugs families with a new cost. That’s not what Australian families want, and we’ll expose that.

JOURNALIST: What do you say to those in your Caucus who are apparently forming various factions to get rid of you?

CREAN: Well, you read too much into the newspapers. There is overwhelming support in the Caucus for the position that I’ve adopted in relation to Iraq and the focus in terms of the domestic agenda, and I will continue to argue that position. I will continue to retain the support of Caucus.

JOURNALIST: Is there too much off-the-record commentary going on from some Labor MPs?

CREAN: This is Opposition. Tell me a circumstance in which that hasn’t happened. Go and speak to Bob Carr, go and speak to Mike Rann, go and speak to Peter Beattie, go and speak to Steve Bracks - these are all people that had great difficulty in Opposition. But they’re there as Premiers now. Why? Because they focused on the real issue. They held their nerve. They looked through the diversions, and in this case it’s the fog of war that’s the diversion. It’s an issue we have to deal with, but we have to look through it because what is happening here is Australian families are being taxed more and they’re being charged more for their services. They can’t afford it, they deserve relief, and Labor is going to give that relief. And on that platform, that’s the basis upon which we’ll will be going to the next election and we’ll be judged.

JOURNALIST: Just a question on Iraq. It appears the US and Britain have stepped up some of their bombing in the no-fly zones, or actions to take out some of the Iraqi military bases there. Does that concern you, and the six people who have been killed in those actions?

CREAN: What concerns me is that the matter is resolved, and only resolved, through the United Nations framework. We can still avoid war in Iraq. We can still achieve the peaceful disarmament of Iraq. We have seen progress made in that regard over the last few weeks. If the weapons inspectors are doing their job, let them complete the job and let’s ensure that decision-making and outcomes are determined by the United Nations, not through unilateral action.

Thanks very much.